From Yemen to Imperial: the journey that changed my life forever

I have a saying: ‘A dream is not something you see in your sleep, it’s something that doesn’t let you sleep.’ My dream was to pursue further education at one of the world’s top universities, but my home country of Yemen was shattered by ongoing war, and remains that way today.

So, embarking on a journey to pursue my education abroad was the only way. That journey began when I was 19 and left Yemen – and my family – for Malaysia, to gain my Bachelor of Civil Engineering at the Universiti Tun Hussein Onn.

Living away from home was hard but my belief that nothing in life is permanent kept me going. The fuel for my determination came from my mother’s tears when she was praying daily for me, and my father’s sweat when he was trying to support me. I had to keep going, until I tasted the flavour of success.

Eight years after leaving Yemen, in December 2021, I arrived in the UK. My first challenge was to improve my English quickly to meet the minimum requirement for study. I applied to Imperial to undertake a Master’s in my specialist field of transport and was accepted. But I had no financial support, I had no permission to work and I had to find funding. That’s when I became aware of Imperial’s Sanctuary Scholarship, which provides educational funding to refugees and asylum seekers. I applied and was fortunate enough to receive it.

Scholarships like these are greatly needed. Many refugees and asylum seekers have the potential and drive to excel academically but may face many discrimination challenges. The Sanctuary Scholarship provides a glimmer of hope to those of us with ambition, offering us the chance to complete our studies and become active contributors to society in our various fields.

It’s hard to describe how much happiness the Sanctuary Scholarship has brought me. First, of course, it has enabled me to complete my education. I enjoy every moment at Imperial and I try to use every second. I feel that I am truly a member of the Imperial community. I love playing badminton, going swimming, attending career fairs, meeting my friends at the library – and, of course, I love my studies.

My determination comes from my mother’s tears and my father’s sweat"

I haven’t seen my family since that day I left Yemen but I check on them all the time. And every time, they tell me that I shouldn’t worry about them, that I should focus on my studies. So that’s what I do.

My Master’s finishes this year, and I am now closer to the ambitions I have strived for all my life. While I have many aspirations, both personal and societal, my short-term goal is to become a respected policymaker in the transport industry, helping to improve people’s lives and bring joy to their faces. I feel that we haven’t yet reached the stage where people enjoy their journeys or feel completely safe. We should design our cities to be liveable, and our streets to be sustainable. People should enjoy their lives without having to worry about traffic. In the long term, I want to reach the point when I can do the work I love, when I want and wherever I want. I don’t want to have any regrets about the life I have lived when I die. 

Abdullah Al-Buriahi is a Sanctuary Scholar studying MSc Transport in Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Sanctuary Scholarship Fund is just one of the many donor-funded initiatives supporting students at Imperial. You can donate to these on our website.